Military recruiters are keeping count but say they don't expect major changes in recruitment numbers as a result of the war. Young people are still drawn to the military for other reasons, they say, chiefly jobs, training and money for college.
"You can have all kind of ideals and political positions on what ought to be done (about Iraq). But at the end of the day, the question is: Can you pay your bills?" said Master Sgt. Rodney Williams, a regional spokesman for Air Force recruitment in Arlington, Texas.
Twelve years ago, the Army saw a slight hesitation in enlistments in the months leading up to the first Gulf War and after it began. Then, as the end neared, there was a surge of recruits, said Doug Smith, a spokesman for Army recruiting.
"They canceled each other out for the most part," he said. He wouldn't speculate about the effects of the war now under way in Iraq.
If the conflict goes on longer than expected, "We're not sure how that will play out over time," said Bill Kelo, public affairs specialist for U.S. Army recruiting in Chicago. "We have seen no change at this point."
For 19-year-old Jason Browning of Oceana, W.Va., the war only deepened his desire to fight for his country. He had known since childhood that he wanted to be a Marine — war or no war — and enlisted in February.
"I probably would still have joined, maybe a little later after I got a little more school in," Browning said from Pensacola, Fla., where he is a college freshman.
Together, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force together signed up 39,041 recruits — 386 above their goal — during the quarter from October to December, the latest comprehensive figures released.
Army figures from the months leading up to the war with Iraq show 27,586 new recruits enlisted between October and February, slightly above the goal of 27,420, said Mack Bazzell, a spokesman for the Montgomery Recruiting Battalion.
Bill Davis, a Navy recruiting spokesman in Tennessee, said the Navy also has had no trouble maintaining a force of 380,000 troops. He said more people were re-enlisting as a result of the weak economy, meaning fewer slots to fill.
The recent events have likely done two things — sparked interest in people to serve their country and turned off others who decided not to risk being put in harm's way.
"In a way, it's almost a wash," said Davis, deputy public affairs officer for the Navy's recruiting command in Millington, Tenn.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, recruiters saw a spike in inquiries about military service but the numbers of actual recruits remained fairly steady. The military credited a strong advertising campaign and weakening economy for boosting recruiting following a falloff for all services during the economic boom of the 1990s.
The high cost of college led Michael Mielko, a 17-year-old senior at North Babylon High School on New York's Long Island, to a Navy recruiter's office.
"As I got closer to joining, it got a little more intense in the Middle East and I was worried," he said. "But I felt more strongly about learning and training."
He enlisted for six years and begins training to be a nuclear technician Nov. 24.
"There's always going to be anecdotal evidence both for and against," said Maj. David Griesmer, spokesman for Marine Corps recruiting in Quantico, Va. "What we can say is that the Marine Corps message resonates during good economic times, bad economic times and war."
By Dave Bryan